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Governor Bentley Goes to Nation’s Capital to Secure Fair Funding for Tornado Recovery

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Alabama Political Reporter

From the Office of Governor Robert Bentley

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Governor Robert Bentley on Wednesday traveled to Washington, D.C., as part of an effort to secure fair and adequate funding for the ongoing tornado recovery in the City of Tuscaloosa.

Governor Bentley met with Shaun Donovan, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.  The meeting followed a letter Governor Bentley sent to President Obama on September 6, alerting the President to concerns regarding a formula used by HUD when calculating disaster recovery funding.  That formula caused hundreds of Tuscaloosa houses that were damaged or destroyed in the April 27, 2011, tornado outbreak to be excluded from recently-announced recovery assistance funding.

“My goal in writing to the President and meeting with the HUD Secretary is to give more people access to the resources they need on the long road to recovery,” Governor Bentley said.  “Many people are still struggling to rebuild their lives.  I will do everything I can to help with long-term recovery needs and to make sure communities have fair access to available funding.”

“We had a productive meeting this afternoon with Secretary Donovan.  We are confident he understands our concerns,” Governor Bentley added.  “HUD is promising to consider our position, and we look forward to hearing a response in the coming weeks.”

Nearly 4,700 homes in Tuscaloosa were severely damaged or destroyed by the tornado.  But according to the formula used for HUD’s Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) assistance, the amount of properties that counted toward HUD recovery money was disproportionately low.

Specifically, the formula had a severe impact on Tuscaloosa’s funding because of the high concentration of rental properties in some of the most severely damaged parts of the city.  The formula counts rental properties only if they are located within a census tract in which more than half of the owner-occupied properties sustained severe damage or were destroyed.  As a result of that formula, unmet housing needs have been severely underestimated in areas of Tuscaloosa with a high concentration of rental properties.

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The State understands HUD cannot fund the entirety of the community’s unmet needs.  However, Governor Bentley believes Tuscaloosa’s fair share of funding is higher than the amount that has been allocated so far.

One particular area excluded in the funding is the exact location President Obama toured with Governor Bentley on April 29, 2011.  The tract where the President toured included 440 severely damaged rental units in the Alberta area of Tuscaloosa.  According to the HUD formula, none of those rental units counted toward Tuscaloosa’s unmet housing needs.

Governor Bentley is appreciative of the HUD funding allocated for various parts of the state that were impacted by the April 27 outbreak.  The purpose of his letter to the President and the visit with Secretary Donovan is to help ensure the City of Tuscaloosa receives its fair share as well.

“Since April 27, HUD has been an active partner in the recovery process, and we appreciate the assistance Alabamians have been given,” Governor Bentley said.  “The President himself saw firsthand the destruction in areas with high concentrations of rental properties.  I am asking the President and Secretary Donovan to reconsider the formula used to calculate assistance for those areas.”

“My administration will continue working with Alabama’s Congressional delegation, HUD and others on this issue,” Governor Bentley added.  “HUD is an active partner in our state’s recovery efforts, and we appreciate the department’s continued support.”

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Health

Three firefighters, police officer in Mobile test positive for COVID-19

Eddie Burkhalter

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Three firefighters and a police officer in Mobile have tested positive for COVID-19, city officials said Tuesday.

James Barber, executive director of public safety with the city of Mobile, said during a press conference Tuesday that the four city employees tested positive.

The positives come after Mobile-based Synergy Laboratories donated 500 “test kits” and 131 asymptomatic first responders were given the 10-minute rapid blood tests on Monday.  

Barber said the four employees have been quarantined at home until swab tests confirm the virus and physicians provide further guidance.

The rapid blood tests search for antibodies in the blood, which could show a past infection, but not necessarily active infections that are still contagious.

The swab tests will confirm an active infection if one exists. It’s possible the first responders have already recovered from the virus and are no longer contagious.

“That testing continues today,” Barber said of the rapid blood testing of first responders.

Barber said he didn’t have results from Tuesday’s testing yet, but that Monday’s testing resulted in just more than 3 percent of those tested showing positive results for COVID-19. 

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There were 53 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and one death from the virus in Mobile County as of Tuesday evening, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health. 

As of Tuesday evening, there were 999 confirmed COVID-19 cases across Alabama, 13 confirmed deaths from the virus and 23 total reported deaths, some of them not yet confirmed as being caused by the virus.

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Economy

Freelancers, gig workers can begin filing unemployment claims

Chip Brownlee

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Stock Photo

Employees like freelancers and the self-employed can now file for an unemployment claim in Alabama, the Alabama Department of Labor said Tuesday, under the CARES Act, the coronavirus response bill passed by Congress and signed by the president last week.

The Alabama Department of Labor is encouraging employees who believe they may qualify for programs under the CARES Act to file a claim.

These employees will also need to certify weekly to continue to let the department know that they remain unemployed.

Although ADOL does not yet have technical guidance or a start date regarding the CARES Act programs, benefits may be paid retroactively from the time the employee separated from his or her job or otherwise became eligible under the federal CARES Act, not from the time the application was submitted or approved.

In Alabama, many freelancers, independent contractors and the self-employed are not typically able to file for unemployment insurance.

Last week, more than 70,000 people filed an initial jobless claim. Claims can be filed online at www.labor.alabama.gov or by calling 1-866-234-5382.

The Department of Labor is asking for patience when trying to file a claim.

ADOL says employees who may be affected include:

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  • The self-employed
  • Church employees
  • Non-profit and governmental employees
  • Independent contractors
  • Gig economy workers
  • Those who have exhausted their regular UI benefits.

These employees should also meet one of these conditions:

  • The individual has been diagnosed; or
  • A member of the individual’s household has been diagnosed; or
  • The individual is providing care to a household or family member; or
  • A child or other person for which the individual has primary caregiving responsibility is unable to attend school or another facility as a result of COVID-19; or
  • The individual is unable to reach the place of employment because of a quarantine imposed as a result of the COVID-19 public health emergency; or
  • The individual is unable to reach the place of employment because the individual has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine; or
  • The individual was scheduled to start work and does not have a job as a result of COVID-19; or
  • The individual has become “the breadwinner or major support for a household because the head of the household has died as a direct result of COVID-19”; or
  • The individual has to quit their job because of COVID-19; or
  • The individual’s place of employment is closed because of COVID-19.

This list is not exhaustive.

Further details regarding the CARES Act programs will be forthcoming, the department says, including information regarding Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, which provides for an additional $600 a week in unemployment compensation benefits.

The additional $600 weekly benefit will only be available for weeks beginning March 29, 2020

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Health

Two hospital employees in Huntsville test positive for COVID-19

Chip Brownlee

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Stock Photo/Huntsville, Alabama

A physician and another employee at Crestwood Medical Center in Huntsville, Alabama, have tested positive for the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, the hospital said Tuesday.

“Crestwood Medical Center learned that 2 of our associates (one physician and one employee) have tested positive for COVID-19,” spokesperson Lori Light said in a statement Tuesday.

One is in the hospital for care while the other is at home under quarantine.

The hospital has also had two patients test positive in the Emergency Department, but neither of the patients needed inpatient care, the spokesperson said.

“Working in coordination with the health department, we are following established CDC procedures to identify and communicate directly with any potentially exposed staff and patients,” the Crestwood Medical Center spokesperson said.

Overall, there are at least 13 COVID-19 patients in Madison County, the hospital’s CEO Dr. Pam Hudson said Tuesday during a briefing.

There are 11 inpatients at Huntsville Hospital’s facilities, according to Huntsville Hospital spokesperson Susan Esslinger.

In Alabama, the number of positive cases is nearing 1,000. At least 23 deaths related to COVID-19 have been reported. The Alabama Department of Public Health has officially confirmed 13.

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Crime

Alabama inmate killed by another inmate at Ventress Correctional

Eddie Burkhalter

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via the Alabama Department of Corrections

A Birmingham man serving at Ventress Correctional Facility in Clayton was killed by another inmate, according to the Alabama Department of Corrections. 

Dennis Benson, 40, who was serving a 36-month sentence for possession of a controlled substance and receiving stolen property, died March 30 after being attacked by another inmate, ADOC said in a statement. 

“The ADOC condemns all violence in its facilities, and the fatal actions taken against Benson by another inmate are being thoroughly investigated,” the department said in a statement.

Benson’s cause of death is pending a full autopsy, and more information will be available upon the conclusion of the investigation into his death, according to the department. 

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